By Joseph Ryan, Assistant editor
Slavery is such a hidden horror in the world today that it’s known by an innocuous alias — human trafficking.
When Ronald Chance speaks about human trafficking at St. Helena Parish on April 12, he’ll be talking about one of the largest criminal industries in the world, a crime that includes 12.3 million adults and children who are forced into labor or prostitution, 56 percent of them women and young girls, according to a 2010 U.S. State Department report.
Chance, an adjunct professor of intelligence studies at Neumann University in Aston, Pa., has been helping the Franciscan Sisters there to tell the story of human trafficking, which the sisters advocate against as part of their mission to serve the poor and the oppressed. The sisters officially took a corporate stand against human trafficking in 2008, dedicating themselves to lobby Congress and work with social-service agencies to help victims of trafficking.
A former New Jersey State Trooper who became familiar with human trafficking when he worked for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, Chance has spoken to the Franciscan NGO (nongovernmental agency) at the United Nations and works with the Franciscans to set up a safe house with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in the Philadelphia area for rescued victims of trafficking.
Modern slave labor can include people brought to the United States who end up being chained to sewing machines and forced to work, coerced farm laborers and victims of sex traffickers, said Chance, a member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Hammonton, N.J.
Young girls in foreign countries might be offered jobs in the U.S. as au pairs, teachers, nurse’s aides, waitresses or actors without “understanding the reality of the situation,” he said. Some people will agree to pay from $5,000 to $30,000 to come to the U.S. and then be forced to work in prostitution or some other kind of forced labor and endure threats to their families at home or deportation.
“It’s a very serious problem on the East Coast,” said Chance, who said his talk at St. Helena’s will focus on trafficking within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia and how people can identify possible victims of trafficking and get them help.
The problem in this country isn’t limited to foreigners, Chance said. “Americans have been kidnapped off the streets. There are cases of girls — 14-, 15-, 16-year-old homeless drug addicts — who have been forced into prostitution on the streets of Atlantic City.”
A couple of years ago in Wilmington, Franciscan Sister Jean Rupertus, program director of House of Joseph II, the Ministry of Caring’s residence for people with AIDS, was told by a case worker that some prostitutes on the streets “sounded like they were Russian.” Sister Jean suspected the women were victims of sex traffickers. She contacted Chance to give a workshop in Wilmington on the issue. One of the resources Sister Jean discovered in Delaware is the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which in 2007 organized a group of people interested in fighting human trafficking.
The group includes about a dozen representatives from different government entities and other institutions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Burke told The Dialog. Because human trafficking is often a hidden crime, Burke said, the Delaware group focuses on getting the word out on how people can spot victims of trafficking and how they can call places that provide shelter, food, health care and legal services for them.
All human trafficking involves some kind of “force, fraud or coercion” to get people to work, Burke said, usually in sex trafficking or forced labor of some other kind, including as servants in a house or business, such as restaurants or even braiding salons.
While not all victims of trafficking are illegal immigrants, Burke noted that there are a lot of ways under federal law that victims can now stay in the country and ultimately get legal residence here.
“Our working group has folks who work with victims on the legal process to stay,” Burke said. Victims’ services are part of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act that was passed in 2000.
If you go
Presentation on human trafficking by Ronald Chance, 6:30 p.m. April 12, Masci Hall, St. Helena Parish, 602 Philadelphia Pike, Bellefonte
How to identify a victim of trafficking
• Why and how did the person come to this country?
Many trafficking victims are smuggled into the U.S. or come on legitimate visas with the promise of a good job.
• Does the person have identification papers?
Many victims have their immigration and identity documents, such as passports and/or return plane tickets, seized upon arrival in the U.S. by their traffickers or employees.
• Does the person owe money to their employer?
The victim may have been promised a job with good pay but found they must first work off their travel debt. While doing so they are charged exorbitant fees for rent, food and clothes leading to a cycle of debt to their employer.
• Where does this person live?
Many victims are forced to live where they work and may be frightened into staying inside due to their immigration status.
Additional signs to look for:
. Living with employer
. Poor living conditions
. Multiple people in cramped space
. Inability to speak to individual alone
. Identity documents held by employer
. Signs of physical abuse
. Submissive or fearful
. Unpaid or paid very little
. Under 18 and in prostitution
Where can victims of human trafficking be found?
. The sex industry
. Domestic situations (nannies or servants)
. Sweatshop factories
. Construction sites
. Farm work
. Hotel or tourist industries
. Janitorial services
. Restaurant services
Sources: U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration & Refugee Services (usccb.org/mrs); Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (osfphila.org/justice_ peace/advocacy_trafficking)